- Notre Occitanie by Hervé Di Rosa
Notre Occitanie defies easy classification. Book? Album, in the French comic book style? Exhibition catalogue? Just a carnet? Hervé Di Rosa and Claude Sicre present this hybrid form to exemplify the many traditions and inhabitants of the amalgamated Occitanie-Pyrenées-Méditerranée region, officially décentralisé in 2015 but, Sicre argues, "decentral" since time immemorial. The volume emerged with a traveling exhibition—pairing Hervé Di Rosa's paintings with Sicre's musings—which has toured municipal cultural sites in the region.
Writer-dreamer Sicre pens fifteen lyrical essays riffing on the subcultures and famous figures of the Midi, medieval to present. His objective is to describe the "geopolitics of an invisible Occitania" (5). His meditations sail on the winds of Rimbaud, Bob Dylan, Sergio Leone: marginal pop rebels become cult classics. Mistral is juxtaposed with the martyred socialist Jean Jaurès; Flaubert's disdain for the "provincial" with Bourdieu's neutral drive to sociologize; Di Rosa with Kerouac. Sicre calls his approach a "folklore of critical reason." His French is peppered with Occitan slang and American pop slogans. Delightfully for Tenso's readers, occasionally he uses parallel Occitan and French, notably in his essay "Getting to the Bottom of Things" (12–13). Sicre's "personal anthem," Guilhem IX's song "Farai un vers …" is placed adjacent to Di Rosa's "Aveyron" (50), as Roland Pécout's transcribed folk tale of the Beast of Gévaudan illustrates "Lozère" (62).
Artist Hervé Di Rosa's twenty-two paintings encapsulate aspects of Occitania's culture in vivid primary colors. His art modeste style evokes street art and rock posters, as well as the cut-outs of Matisse or Picasso's years in the Midi. Some feature toothy, graffiti-esque smiley faces. Memorably, in his illustration of the langue d'oc, a foolishly happy and smiling Earth beams towards the letter "c," the two spelling out "Oc"; both lie on an enormous red tongue and are symbolically poised to be swallowed. The illustration evokes The [End Page 192] Rolling Stones logo (29). In the regional treasures section ("Nos Richesses"), for "The Arts" (43) he paints a troubadour with an electric guitar garbed in caricatural, anachronistic red and yellow jester's garb à la Danny Kaye in The Court Jester.—"Free art" indeed, inspired by the popular images of comics and movies rather than medieval illuminations, but efficiently evocative. The intertwined silhouettes of a white horse and a dark bull depict "The Fauna of the Camargo" (39) with strikingly beautiful simplicity. Readers who have visited Occitania's regions may delight in recognizing the hilltop monuments skillfully outlined in the "Departments" section: Carcassonne in flame tones (49), Rocamadour visited in hot air balloons (61), Lozère's lofty Chateau de Tournel (63); and is that Ceret's Pont du Diable behind that Picasso-inspired three-eyed mermaid? (67). Notre Occitanie offers a uniquely impressionistic tour of the region. [End Page 193]